• Russia: New Streamlined Work Permit Procedure for Highly Qualified Workers
  • June 8, 2010
  • Law Firm: Fragomen Del Rey Bernsen Loewy LLP - New York Office
  • Russia is introducing a new streamlined work permit program for highly qualified foreign specialists on July 1, 2010. Under the new program, eligible organizations seeking to hire these specialists will be exempt from Russia’s work permit quota and employment permit regimes, though they will be subject to a variety of safeguards and reporting requirements. Russia is also simplifying the rules for individual Russian citizens seeking to hire foreign workers and the registration requirements for foreign nationals relocating internally in Russia.

    Which Employers Qualify to Use the New Program?

    Only Russian legal entities and accredited branch offices of foreign legal entities will be able to sponsor foreign nationals for the new highly qualified specialist work permits. To qualify, employers must be able to demonstrate that they have not violated any rules or procedures relating to the employment of foreign nationals within the two years preceding their application.

    Representative offices of foreign legal entities will not be able to sponsor foreign workers under the new permit program. They must continue to use the standard process for obtaining work permits for any potential foreign employees, even if those employees are highly qualified.

    Who Is Eligible as a Highly Qualified Specialist?

    To be eligible as a highly qualified specialist, a foreign employee’s prospective annual gross income must exceed two million rubles (approximately US $65,000) and be paid in accordance with all Russian labor and contractual laws. The foreign national must also have considerable experience, skills, and achievements in their field of employment, though Russian authorities have not specified the levels necessary to qualify.

    Benefits of the New Program

    Eligible employers seeking to sponsor foreign workers for the highly qualified specialist work permits will not be subject to the normal Russian work permit quota restrictions and therefore will not have to anticipate their foreign labor needs in advance. They will not have to obtain an employment permit before they can issue invitation letters to prospective foreign workers, nor will they be required to certify a highly qualified specialist’s educational credentials. In addition, there is no limit on the number of highly qualified specialists an employer may hire. The new program is expected to reduce work permit processing times to fourteen business days, from the normal average of three to six months.

    The validity of work permits under the program will be increased to three years. Highly qualified foreign workers will be able to extend their stay, provided that they file for an extension at least thirty days before the expiration date on their visa. Work permits for highly qualified specialists can be issued for multiple regions within Russia, rather than a single jurisdiction, provided the highly qualified foreign national will actually work in the regions covered by the permit. Lastly, highly qualified specialists will pay lower Russian income taxes than other foreign workers.

    Restrictions and Safeguards Against Misuse of the New Program

    Employers must provide highly skilled specialists and any accompanying family members with full private medical insurance. Foreign specialists will be required to register with Russia’s tax inspectorate, and employers must, within thirty days of a work permit’s issuance, notify immigration authorities of the foreign national’s tax registration. On a quarterly basis, employers will have to notify immigration authorities of the number of highly qualified specialists they employ, along with their salary and tax withholding information. Employers must also notify Russian authorities if any of their foreign employees have an unpaid break in employment of a month or more within a 12-month period.

    Employers that fail to comply with all of the new program’s requirements, or any other immigration regulation, may be barred from using the highly qualified specialist program for a two-year period.

    Other Changes

    In addition to the new program for highly qualified specialists, Russia also eased rules for individual Russian citizens who employ foreign nationals. Foreign nationals will no longer need to obtain work permits to work for individuals. Instead, they will obtain a work license which will be issued for one to three months initially and can be extended for a subsequent three-month period.

    Russia is also simplifying its registration procedures for foreign nationals relocating within Russia. When a foreign national relocates to another region, he or she will no longer have to de-register with local authorities before moving, as is the current requirement. Rather, authorities will automatically de-register the foreign national once he or she registers in the new location.

    In preparing this article, Fragomen worked closely with the Migration Law Department of the Russian firm, VISTA Foreign Business Support (VFBS). The content herein is provided for informational purposes only.